America's war on terrorism should not be waged at the expense of long-valued, constitutionally protected civil rights, says a resolution to be considered Tuesday by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.
Introduced by assembly member Betty Glick of Kenai, Resolution 2003-043 would affirm the borough's opposition to terrorism, as well as its belief fundamental civil rights should not be victims of the war on terrorism.
"The Kenai Peninsula Borough affirms the right of all people living within the United States to be treated in accordance with the full protections granted in the United States' Constitution and the Alaska State Constitution," the resolution reads. "The Kenai Peninsula Borough strongly affirms that the rights of all people shall not be abridged due to race, ethnicity, country of origin, or association without due process of law."
The resolution asks President George W. Bush, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and the U.S. Congress to formally review and, as necessary, amend various presidential executive orders, the USA PATRIOT Act, the Homeland Security Act and a purported sequel to the PATRIOT Act called the Draft Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 "to ensure that they are consistent with constitutionally protected civil rights and fundamental civil liberties."
It also encourages borough citizens and employees, including administrative officers, librarians, school officials, health workers and others, to consult with the borough attorney's office concerning the appropriateness of divulging information requested by authorities under those acts.
Under terms of the resolution, the borough attorney's office would be directed to publicly instruct borough employees on their constitutional responsibilities with regard to the new federal laws. Further, the assembly would be requested to prepare a report, insofar as confidentiality permits, whenever it have knowledge of a complaint that a citizen's civil rights or liberties allegedly have been infringed due to actions authorized under the new laws. Also, the U.S. attorney for Alaska would be requested to provide the assembly with an annual summary of investigations, warrants, orders, subpoenas and arrests carried out within the borough under the authority of the anti-terrorism laws. The borough would make that information available to the public.
"I'm putting this forth so we can have a discussion on it. In no way does this mean I'm anti-troops or anti-president, but we need to look to see if our rights are being infringed upon. I hope when we look at this, people don't bring up that red herring about being against the president and troops," Glick said.
She said Kasilof resident Paul Zimmerman e-mailed a similar resolution to her and other assembly members in February, but it wasn't until several weeks later that she had a chance to consider it. She said the resolution to go before the assembly had evolved, primarily through the work of the Juneau borough attorney, where a similar resolution is under consideration.
Assembly President Pete Sprague said he had been asked if he would sponsor the measure. He said he declined, primarily because he did not know many details about the federal laws, including the PATRIOT Act. He added his reticence to sponsor the measure should not be read as an indication on how he might vote.
Sprague said he normally likes the assembly to spend its time on issues "more immediate to us." The resolution is well beyond the assembly's normal range of responsibilities, he noted.
"I remember when the legislation (PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security Act and the like) was passed shortly after 9-11. I did hear concerns and was aware there were concerns about how far this was taking the federal government's powers. I find it interesting that it has taken this long for this awareness to grow and reach this level."
Borough Attorney Colette Thompson said she was reviewing the resolution and the federal acts to which it refers and would prepare comments for Tuesday's meeting. She declined comment on the accuracy of statements regarding the application of the federal acts, as well as the impact of executive orders, which the resolution says have been used to deny or suspend civil rights and liberties.
According to the resolution, for instance, the PATRIOT Act "authorizes the indefinite incarceration or deportation of noncitizens, even if they have not committed a crime." The act also reduces judicial supervision of monitoring telephone and Internet use, grants law enforcement and intelligence agencies "broader access to medical, mental health, library, business, financial, educational, and other records about individuals without first showing probable cause or evidence of a crime," and "redefines terrorist activities and terrorist organizations so broadly that it could have a repressive effect on free speech," according to the resolution.
The assembly of the city and borough of Juneau is considering a similar resolution. Though virtually identical, the Juneau resolution includes a clause not in the KPB's resolution recognizing that "the press of time" led to the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security Act without the level of scrutiny most acts of Congress receive.
The city of Fairbanks unanimously adopted a resolution in early January claiming "a long and proud tradition of upholding the free exercise" of rights granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution, and recognizing the benefits of a "highly diverse population."
It points to provisions of the PATRIOT Act that expand the authority of the federal government "to detain and investigate citizens and noncitizens and engage in the electronic surveillance of citizens and noncitizens" that may threaten civil rights and liberties.
Democrats in the Alaska Legislature have introduced measures in the House and Senate stating that any efforts to end terrorism "must not be waged at the expense of essential civil rights and liberties of the people of the state of Alaska and the United States."
Senate Joint Resolution 15 and House Joint Resolution 22 warn against the abuses possible under the PATRIOT Act and quote founding father Benjamin Franklin who said, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
Those resolutions include some language identical to that passed in Fairbanks.
The USA PATRIOT Act is an acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" Act of 2001.
By the end of last year, more than 20 municipalities across the nation had passed measures opposing the act. By March, the number had grown to at least 40 and more were considering similar legislation.
Oakland, Calif., went so far as to ban cooperation with federal authorities under the act. Other California communities are considering variations on the theme, as are communities elsewhere.
While municipalities across the nation are discussing resolutions ranging from simply asking for review of the federal laws to outright banning cooperation with federal authorities, other law-making bodies are looking at legislation that might be said to head in the other direction.
Sen. John Minnis of the Oregon Legislature, who chairs that body's Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill recently that would label anti-war protesters "terrorists" and subject them to jail sentences as long as 25 years for acts as commonplace as blocking traffic.
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